How to give better design feedback

Image copyright Drafted 2017

As someone who’s been in both roles (designer and feedback-giver), I find that even the best design critics are not great at communicating their feedback to designers in the most helpful way.

I’m a mediocre designer at best and I’m guilty of most of sins when giving feedback, so I’m writing this as a reminder for myself when giving design feedback, as much as for everyone else :)

Product designers are naturally hungry for feedback. If you’re on a product team or are simply working with a product team, you might often find yourself looking at mockups or designs.

Good designers always welcome feedback, and often ask everyone within earshot to give them feedback about whatever concept they’re working on.

However, a large majority of the feedback that designers get is useless. Here are some things that you can keep in mind to give better design feedback the next time your designer asks you to “take a look”

Be aware of what kind of feedback they want

The kind of feedback designers are looking for broadly falls into 3 categories

  1. Usability reactions (How a user would feel when using this product)
  2. Validation (Does this design actually solve the problem for the user?)
  3. Design critiques (Are there stylistic flaws or innovations in this design?)

They are not necessarily always looking for the 4th category which is

4. Brainstorming alternative design solutions

If you want to be really awesome at giving design feedback, categorize your feedback into 1–3 above when mentioning it — it will be way better received and way more helpful for your designer.

Identify problems, not solutions

When giving design feedback, you are playing one of 2 roles — guinea pig or critic. When you find yourself saying

“Well why don’t you move this filter to the left…”

Stop. The job of the designer is to create solutions to the design problem. Your job when giving good feedback is to help them identify the problem and evaluate the solution. Trying to create the solution is the most unhelpful thing you can do, unless the designer explicitly asks for it.

Instead, you can say something like

“I wasn’t sure how to filter because I didn’t notice it at first.”

Bring value through your expertise (hint, it’s not design)

Unless you’re also a designer (in which case you don’t need to read this), you have some other area of expertise. Since product design affects almost every aspect of any business, it’s important to designers to understand how their design will impact those other aspects, and that’s where you can be really valuable.

If you’re an engineer, you can give feedback about the engineering tradeoffs that the design would imply that would affect the user experience. It’s very important to help the designer understand the tradeoff, rather than give opinions about which choice to make. For example you might say

“The number of search results per page in this design will impact the load time of the page. If the number of results is lower than 10, it would be near instant. If the number of results is over 100, it might take a few seconds.”

This is very valuable for the designer, because they might need to design an extra loading screen if they choose the second option, and they may not have known this unless they had your feedback.

If you’re a marketer, you can give feedback about the marketing tradeoffs that the design would imply that would affect the marketing team’s goals. It’s important to help the designer understand your team’s goals rather than making requests. For example, don’t say

“We really need to ask for the user’s email on this form”

Instead say

“It’s important for marketing that we have a way to re-engage people that show interest on this page.”

If you’re a salesperson, you can give feedback about how it would impact the sales process. It’s important to help the designer understand how the design impacts sales, rather than ask for modifications that you think would help sales. For example, don’t say

“I want the request demo button to be here”

Instead say

“This part of the experience is the part that gets customers the most excited during demos”

or if you want to be more critical,

“The features that get customers excited the most in sales demos seem to be underplayed in the new design”

The common thread here is that when giving feedback, you should focus on

  1. Helping the designer evaluate their solution
  2. Giving the designer information they might not have
  3. Being aware of the kind of feedback they’re looking for

In the rare case where you’re actively collaborating on a design with a designer, you can do #4 from above.

Brainstorming design

If your designer asks you to help them think of solutions or give suggestions, that’s awesome — but this still doesn’t give you carte blanche to start creating design. To be constructive when paired with a designer, it still pays off a lot to follow some of the ideas above, mainly

  • Focus on contributing your expertise to the effort (hint: it’s not design)
  • Identifying design problems to solve is more helpful than solving them

If you’re a designer — now you can ❤ this to share with your team, and get better feedback.

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